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An original story by
Jennifer Poulos

Characters, situations, and settings copyright © 2002-2003 Jennifer Poulos.

Book Two

Prologue


"Well, that's it for me. I'm going home!" cried out a chipper and well-dressed blonde with carefully coiffed hair and red lipstick that matched her loud red jacket.

Judy Scanlon looked from the corner of her eye at the manager, Dave, a young twerp who looked barely old enough to drive, much less be her boss. Must be nice to have a rich daddy. The blonde was watching Dave too, she noticed, and was shifting from foot to foot.

"Go ahead, Irene," Dave said absently, his nose buried in the books for that day.

Judy sighed. Essentially that left her and Dave to close the store. This was a fairly normal occurrence when Irene was working a shift. She was lazy, she was a diva, and she threw temper tantrums like a child when she didn't get her way. Dave turned a blind eye to it, but God forbid Judy was late from her other job, or because the kids were going wild; the whole world would possibly collapse beneath them all. If the commissions from selling some of the finest jewelry on Sixth Avenue weren't so good, she'd have quit a long time ago.

It was Sunday, though, and Sundays were good because the store closed early. She'd be home in time to enjoy one of her mother's meals before she had to tuck the kids into bed, and then she and her mother would probably play gin rummy for a couple of hours while the old battleaxe nagged her about the horrible choices she'd made for her life. Well, it was more relaxing than Dave and Irene, anyway.

She bent down and began to slide one of the black velvet trays, containing an assortment of diamond engagement rings, into its locked compartment under the display case. She stood back up in time to see a face flying at hers, crying out, "Boo!"

She jumped, startled, a slight scream escaping her lips. Then she blushed in embarrassment and turned away when she saw it was only Dave.

"See, if I'da been a robber, you'da been toast," Dave said chuckling. "Gotta be more alert."

"Sorry," Judy replied, her cheeks growing hotter by the moment. This is why Dave was such an annoyance; all of these immature pranks.

He surprised her though. He frowned.

"Hey," he said, concerned. "I'm putting you through a little bit of hazing because I wanted to talk to you tonight. I've got a proposition for ya. Lemme just lock the doors."

Alarmed, she turned and faced him.

"Don't worry, it's nothin' like that," he grinned as he headed for the steel-gated front doors. They were bulletproof, dent-proof, and shatter-proof, and the security alarm was state of the art. New York had money, but it also had crime, and you couldn't be too safe.

Judy stood there wondering if she was safe as she heard the final, punctuating click of the bolt sliding in. This was followed by a few more, the doors locking from the top, bottom, and twice in the middle. She could always run to the back — you didn't need the manager's keys to get out that way — but she would be disarming the alarm and that would take time…

"You look like a deer caught in headlights," Dave said, turning his full attention to her. "Are you all right?"

"I'm just wondering what this is all about," Judy replied, her face growing hot again.

He grabbed two chairs and put one in front of her, then sat down himself, getting very comfortable. She followed suit, puzzled now instead of fearful.

"My dad's been following your sales figures for the past coupla weeks, and he likes what he sees," Dave began, and Judy felt her heart race, her feet become fidgety. Dave continued, "We know we've only got you part-time, and we were hoping we could make you an offer to change that. All the bored, rich socialites come here during the weekdays, and our best salesperson isn't here because she's off at her other job. Whaddya say? What are they paying you?"

Judy felt a swell of joy fill her chest as she considered the opportunity she was being offered. Dave was an asshole, and immature, but he did not joke around about the store, oh no. It was his father's only other child, and Dave had grown up taking it very seriously. Judy, on the other hand, had two preschoolers to support, daycare expenses, doctor bills, and insurance to pay, plus her subway pass. During the day, however, the store netted almost four times as much as it did at night, and she knew the commissions would be more than enough to cover all the expenses. This would change her life, and for the better.

She took a deep breath, and said, "What about the—"

And to her horror, there was a man in a ski-mask, a black parka, and black jeans standing just over Dave's right shoulder. She was sure he hadn't been there a moment ago, but there he was, poised to strike Dave across the head with his fist. Four more men appeared behind him, identically dressed, and Judy started up, right out of her chair, knocking it backward with a loud clang! The most coherent thing she could force out of her mouth was a scream.

Dave turned, an awkward movement that tipped over his chair in time to avoid the fist that was slamming down in his direction. On all fours, he scrambled toward Judy, trying desperately to stand in the process. Judy laughed shrilly, reminded for some reason of an ape.

As the other four clustered around him, the apparent leader said, "Obviously we're here to rob you. And you will stay very still, otherwise you will die a horrible death."

His tone was rich, cultured, not the tone of some street thug. Judy and Dave huddled together, and Judy's earlier thoughts flew back through her mind in a hilarious twist as her face was inches from his chest, her hand tightly gripped in his.

While the first one stayed poised in his fighting stance, his piercing blue eyes never leaving the pair of frightened jewelry clerks, the other four dispersed and began breaking the locks to all of the cases. Both of them held their breath for a moment as the first of the locks shattered, then Judy looked in alarm at a guilty-looking Dave.

"I haven't set the alarm yet," he whispered to her, and Judy's head drooped. The alarm would have gone off when the locks were broken if it had been set… but how do five men get into a building whose only doors are dead-bolted?

The leader advanced upon them slowly.

"I said don't move." His voice had all the menace of a coiled cobra. "I do believe I just saw you moving. Do you wish to die a horrible death?"

Judy shut her eyes tight, Dave not daring to even blink as he instantly froze, never answering the man's question.

And then, all at once, it was as though Dave just dissolved, gravity no longer holding his now-liquid form, soaking her hair, her face, her chest. Terror seemed to stop her heart for a moment as she opened her eyes, and saw the sickly red substance that had washed the entire front of her body. It clung to her hair, stuck her clothes, to her body, and carried a nauseating coppery stench that turned her stomach almost more than the unrecognizable pile of flesh on the floor did. The puddle that had collected at her feet was expanding across the maroon carpet, soaking it with a stain that would remain in that spot long after the store was gone.

In panic, Judy looked up at the dark figure hovering over her, the robber's left hand holding out an orb that glowed with a dark red light that seemed almost infested by swirls of black. The blackness floated around the orb in a mist, absorbing her vision, swirling into a deep black hole that sucked all the air from her lungs and left her drowning in its darkness. Little worms of pain invaded her body from within, burrowing through her in white-hot agony. She wanted to scream, but she was drowning, drowning in the black pupil of the blood-red eye and the salty taste of her own blood. Her body collapsed, a quivering bundle of agony, all life gone from it, yet the essence that was her kept falling long after the corpse hit the floor. And she was drowning…

 

To be continued.

Chapter 1
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